~ It's the Little Things: Homemade Graham Crackers~
A graham cracker dunked into a glass of milk. Said with certainty, once I was removed from my high-chair and placed at the table, this is the first store-bought snack I was allowed to sink my baby teeth into. Then, when I got to kindergarten (back in 1960 there was no such thing as daycare or preschool and kindergarten was limited to a five-hour half-day), one big graham cracker, which each one of us kids carefully cracked into four parts, was the snack the teacher handed out every morning at 10:30AM with our half-pint of milk. After snacks, we got to color.
A bit about graham crackers (and graham flour): This popular snack was invented in 1829 in New Jersey by Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham, a controversial dietary reformer. He touted his slightly-sweetened with honey and/or molasses, whole-wheat crackers as a health food as part of his Graham Diet. Nowadays, whether commercially produced or baked-at-home from scratch, to qualify for real-deal graham cracker status, a recipe must contain graham flour (named after and marketed by Rev. Graham). Graham flour is a high-protein wheat flour in which the bran, germ and endosperm are ground separately, resulting in a coarse-textured, brown-colored whole wheat flour with a nutty flavor.
If you bake a lot of whole-grain breads, or want to experiment with adding a bit of unique texture to some of your baked goods, keeping a bag of graham flour on hand is something to consider. Due to the oil in the wheat germ, this flour is best kept stored in the freezer to prevent rancidity.
1 1/2 cups graham flour (8 ounces)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (2 ounces)
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon lightly-packed dark brown sugar (3 ounces)
3/4 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 ounces unsalted butter, cut into 1/4" cubes and kept chilled (3/4 stick)
1 3/4 ounces whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract (1/4 ounce)
1 ounce honey
1 ounce mild-flavor molasses
Note: I love my mini-liquid-measure. It makes measuring in ounces, tablespoons, teaspoons and milliliters really easy.
~Step 1. Place all of the dry ingredients, except for the butter, in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Using a series of 8-10 rapid on-off pulses, thoroughly combine. Open the processor lid and add the cubed butter. Using a second series of 20-25 rapid on-off pulses, process until the mixture resembles small, mealy crumbs.
~ Step 2. Using a small spoon, give the wet mixture a thorough stir, so that it is uniform in color. With processor motor running, through the feedtube, in a slow steady stream add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and process until the dough forms a ball, then stop.
Important note: If the mixture forms a ball and you haven't added quite all of the wet mixture, stop adding it.
~ Step 3. The dough will be slightly sticky but quite manageable. Carefully remove dough from the processor and place it on a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" piece of parchment placed on top of a length of plastic. Using fingertips, pat dough into a 1/2"-thick rectangle. Wrap and chill 1 hour.
~ Step 5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it and invert it onto a pastry board that has been lightly-sprinkled with all-purpose flour. Sprinkle the top of the rectangle with some store-bought Sugar 'n Cinnamon (or your own homemade blend of 3 tablespoons sugar and 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon that has been placed in a salt-shaker-type container). This recipe uses very little of the shaker mixture so I'm opting for the more convenient store-bought stuff today. Roll the dough to a thickness of less than 1/4" and more than 1/8".
~ Step 6. Using a spatula, transfer crackers to prepared baking pan.
Note: A square cutter leaves me with almost no dough scraps. If you have enough for an extra cracker or two, reroll and bake them too.
~ Step 7. The tines of my handheld chocolate chopper makes short work of putting the classic dots on top of store-bought graham crackers. Feel free to substitute a fork or a wooden skewer, just don't poke the holes too deep -- do not pierce through to the bottom.
~ Step 9. Remove chilled pan of crackers from refrigerator and bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven until edges of crackers are just starting to turn deep brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and place pan on a cooling rack to cool completely. They are going to crisp up and darken as they cool, so do not overbake them.
Graham cracker: The little thing in life that will change your life!
Special Equipment List: kitchen scale (optional); mini-liquid measure (optional); paring knife; food processor; plastic wrap; parchment paper; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; small rolling pin; 1, 2 1/4"-square cookie cutter; thin spatula; chocolate chopper or wooden skewer; cooling rack
Cook's Note: Making these homemade snack crackers is not much different (or any harder) than baking cookies. That said, when we think of crackers, we mostly think of salty crackers rather than sweet ones, and, I bake several kinds of those too. Click into Categories 1, 2, 11 or 18 to get three of my recipes for ~ Home for the Holidays: The Cheese Cracker Tray ~ Pictured on this plate are: cheddar logs, gorgonzola wafers and Brie shortbread!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)